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XIII) Carnival after World War I

While not entirely banned during World War I, restrictions placed on the Carnival effectively eliminated the festival until 1918. In 1919 preparations for the Victory Carnival reignited the old debate as representatives of the elites expressed the opinion that Carnival should be eliminated once and for all through their representative journals the Catholic News and the Port of Spain Gazette. The colored middle class Argos and the liberal bourgeois Trinidad Guardian argued in favor of a cleaned up and respectable version of the festival. Governor Chancellor gave permission for the Carnival with the provision that it was to be supervised by leading citizens and cleansed of any violence or obscenity. The Argos organized the Downtown Competition at Marine Square and called on small businesses to donate prizes and trophies for the best dressed band, best musicians, best individual costumes, best patriotic song, and best behaved masqueraders. The Guardian chose to sponsor a competition at the Queen's Park Savannah, a grand expanse of land three miles in circumference at the northern end of Port of Spain, and specifically prohibited bamboo-tamboo and bottle and spoon bands and songs with sexual innuendoes (Johnson 1988:xix-xx). The colonial elite, old French creole families as well as English businessmen and planters organized the 1919 Victory Carnival ball at the Prince's Building and continued to hold such events well into the 1950s (Hill 1972:101). These were the latest steps in the formalization of the Carnival which had begun with the banning of the Canboulay in 1884 and has continued through the organization of the kaiso tents by English speaking kaisonians in the late 1890s. During the 1920s the middle classes established the fancy historical mas' that dominated the Carnival until the late 1960s. The lower class Carnival described by Crowley as involving "intensity, earnestness, exertion, fatigue, and a kind of fanatical zeal ... a much more powerful emotional experience than mere abandon...," gave way to an explosion of color, frivolity, and splendor that has appealed strongly to Trinidad's growing middle class ultimately culminating in the "whine and jam" skimpy costumes of today.

Dances and masked balls were quite common during the Carnival season as each social club would hold a fete during the New Year's to carnival period. In 1922, A Pageant of Dancing, the first major carnival stage spectacle was held in the Princes Building and depicted eight periods of dance through the ages: Stone Age, Greek, Pavane, Courante, Minuet, Gavotte, Lancers, and Dance of the Future. Each act was introduced by a town crier figure and the dancers wore appropriate period costumes. Patrons danced at conclusion of the pageant.

The culmination of the cycle of fetes and masquerade balls was the Les Amantes de Jesu Society Annual Charity Ball. The ball which was first held in the early 1920s under the patronage of the governor at the Princes Building, situated adjacent to the Savannah until it burned down some in 1981. The Society offered prizes for best dressed individuals and band, and the dancing would be suspended at midnight when a competition would be held in which contestants marched in procession around the room.

The working classes developed a new series of masquerades at this time which continued to be down and dirty, vulgar and threatening forms of masquerade like the Midnight Robber, a take off of the American Cowboy who threatened spectators with a harangue of evil deeds and threats until he was given a few pennies, Police and Thief, Bad Behavior Sailors modeled after British and later American sailors who would drunkenly stumble through the streets while on shore leave, Bat (after a rabies scare in 1927), and other figures which were seen as disrupting the smooth operation of everyday life and undermining the preservation of the social order.

Other forms of threatening mas deriving from urban life were also quite common at this time. Masqueraders posed as tradesmen such as tailors, shoe makers, and streetsweepers and professionals like doctors, lawyers and judges harassing spectators and demanding payment for services that they claimed to have performed. They would assail their hapless victim until they received a penny or two. Escaped mental patients, women with babies in search of a father, snake charmers with real snakes were also common (Crowley:1956:53). All these masquerades threaten to ridicule publicly the victim and constitute forms of extortion and coercion to safeguard one's name (Hill 1972:88; Crowley 1956).

Another common genre of threatening mas' was predicated on the concept of wildness animal, human, and superhuman. The African Warrior first appeared in the late 1920s and continued in the tradition of the Wild Indian described by Day in 1848 which continued to be popular. Devil mas' appeared in three broad varieties: the jab-molassie, a dirty mud or molasses smeared devil which grew out of the Canboulay figures; the jab-jab, modeled on the stickfighter; and, the fancy devil mas' which drew on Biblical and literary descriptions of the devil and were organized in elaborate hierarchies, each character having a special costume and form of dance to perform in the streets. Animals such as cow and bear which charged spectators were also popular masquerades.

From the end of World War I to the beginning of World War II was a crucial period in the development of the Carnival. In these years formally organized competitions proliferate and become an established part of the festival. No longer are rivalries only played out informally in the streets of the city as the bands encountered one another in their perambulations. Competitions restricted to specially designated areas reordered the relations of the Carnival and re-established the social order. Prominent citizens, local government officials, visiting dignitaries, and "fine" artists were enlisted to serve as judges of the people in their costumes and in their competitions. The emphasis did not shift completely for the judging venues were not the only locations at which events took place. The bands still had their regional and territorial rivalries and the people on the streets served as the judges. The rich and the poor essentially created separate Carnivals for themselves. Cliques of French creole, white, "high brown" and wealthy Chinese young men and women and children organized themselves into costume groups and would parade around the Queen's Park Savannah in decorated lorries and cars. As the truckloads of similarly costumed revelers passed each other on the road, they would throw paper streamers and handfuls of confetti at one another. Carnival Monday was often reserved for a children's carnival while the adults paraded on Tuesday. After driving the three miles around the Savannah, the bands would cross in front of the Grand Stand at the Racetrack located on the Savannah and compete for prizes for best individuals and bands. The participants in these first children's carnival competitions were all the children of the wealthier classes.

Downtown at Marine Square the traditional masquerades would be seen: Devil, Robber, Jab-jab, Wild Indian, and a variety of military and sailor masquerades which were among the oldest in the Carnival. These were the dirty, drunken, violent and vulgar masquerades including the satiric and comic portrayals of doctors, lawyers, artisans, and government officials. Shantwells still lead their bands in song wearing brightly colored coordinated outfits in an almost royal procession through the streets. Bands depicting historical scenes and exotic milieu like Arabia, the Orient, Egypt, and the Middle East become more common. By 1927 these events had grown so large that the Mayor of Port of Spain, Edgar Gaston-Johnston, organized the Carnival Improvement Committee (CIC) to reduce congestion and improve the flow of human traffic through the streets to the competition venues. The CIC was also concerned about the increasing prevalence of children playing with adults, the potential for libel in kaiso, and unruly behavior in the masquerade bands.

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